Saturday 31 October 2020

Halloween Read ~ The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

Windmill Books
Reissued : October 2020

My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book

The Forest of Pendle used to be a hunting ground, but some say that the hill is the hunter - alive in its black-and-green coat cropped like an animal pelt.

Good Friday, 1612. Two notorious witches await trial and certain death in Lancaster Castle, whilst a small group gathers in secret protest. Into this group the self-made Alice Nutter stakes her claim and swears to fight against the rule of fear. But what is Alice's connection to these witches? What is magic if not power, and what will happen to the women who possess it?

This is Lancashire. This is Pendle. This is witch country.

What did I think about it..

The Daylight Gate brings to life the troubling story of the Lancashire Witches. Dark and dirty, the seamier side of life in the shadow of Pendle Hill, and the lives of the unfortunate women, and men, who were ostracised for witchcraft is explored in graphic and torturous detail.

Whilst the story pulls no punches, and isn't for the faint hearted, I found that I was gripped from the beginning. Starting from the momentous meeting between Alison Devices, and the pedlar, John Law, as he takes his fateful short cut through that part of Pendle Forest, known locally as Bogart's Hole, the story takes us into that dark spring, and summer, of 1612, when the raggle-taggle women of Pendle were rounded up and persecuted for witchcraft.

The Daylight Gate puts an altogether different slant on the story with more of a hint towards the supernatural, but is none the worse for that, in fact, I found the imagining of the story around Alice Nutter, always something of a shadowy and rather enigmatic figure, quite fascinating.  Succinctly written, with never a word wasted, there is a chilling menace which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. And perhaps, if there were, once upon a time, any witches who claimed Pendle Hill as their own, then this story more than does them justice.

The story of the Pendle witches is particularly relevant to those who live in the Pendle region of Lancashire. The story still lingers in the remote countryside around Pendle Hill, and locals haven't forgotten the injustice of the witch trials in the August assizes of 1612, when the twelve suspects were taken from the forests and hills of the North Lancashire moors, places that were as cold, dark and inhospitable, as the bleak, northern landscape.

We dress as witches for fancy dress on Halloween, ostensibly as a bit of lighthearted fun but for this unfortunate group who were made to walk the 46 miles from their ragged homes in Pendle, to the castle gaol, in Lancaster, and their subsequent horrific deaths, being accused of witchcraft was no frivolous matter. 

I visited the Assizes courtroom at Lancaster Castle just a couple of years ago. Sitting on one of the hard wooden seats and trying to imagine the stark reality of facing a trial by a biased jury, who had already decided the accused were guilty, was a sobering experience. The  atmosphere in the dark and gloomy courtroom has a definite menacing chill as the ghosts of these unfortunate women, I think, still linger in the shadowy corners of the room.

Lancaster Castle

About the Author

Jeanette Winterson CBE was born in Manchester,She has written eleven novels for adults, as well as children's books, and non-fiction and screenplays. She is a Professor of New Writing a the University of Manchester. She lives in the Cotswolds in a wood and in Spitalfields, London.

Twitter @Wintersonworld

@Windmill Books

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